First impressions: Warcraft III Reforged is someone’s monkey’s paw wish

    
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Ancient prophecies should perhaps be heeded.

Let me start with something that is, I feel, pretty indisputable: Warcraft III is a pretty great video game. Even taking away its impact on gaming and the various modifications and custom maps and stuff, I think the game itself is a good one. So any review of Warcraft III: Reforged kind of has to start with that fact. Without wildly altering the game, no matter what is done, the basic game being adapted is a good title, and while you can have a better or worse adaptation, you’re still starting from a solid baseline.

But then, that’s sort of the problem, isn’t it? Blizzard’s newly released Warcraft III: Reforged didn’t have to change a whole lot, but it manages to pretty conclusively flub the things it does change along the way with only one real exception. It’s almost more fair to say that because it was working from a good baseline, even all of the mistakes made don’t make the game bad, but they certainly produce an end product that feels far less interesting than both the announced plans and even the existing version.

Far from a remaster, this is more like a de-master. It’s less mastered than before.

Rather than going through line-by-line with evaluation, I feel it’s more useful to compare the features that were promised for Reforged in various interviews and the announcement to what we got. And on one specific goal – giving everything a new and improved model – it delivered excellently. Far from the blocky and limited models of the game’s initial release, the unit models are absolutely gorgeous and managed to both retain the feel of the original versions and look far more attractive.

Beyond that, though?

Remastered cutscenes? Not there, unless you count “upscaled old pre-rendered cutscenes” and “in-engine cutscenes using the new models” to qualify. Unit diversity? Well, a few story units no longer use the generic model and there are exactly two lady skins for heroes you can forcibly toggle on for multiplayer or custom games. You can use the skins in the map editor… in an option that requires a fair bit of digging and is wholly non-intuitive, requiring a couple of nights of digging to even find it. New maps? Well… the maps have some new textures and some different assets, but I certainly haven’t noticed anything that made me sit up and say, “My, this is different.”

All of these are improved features touted as selling points, which the game is lacking. Beyond that, it’s also lacking features that didn’t even need to be added because the original game already had them. Custom games, for example, were bugging badly on launch, and custom campaigns are completely inaccessible… despite the fact that you can still make them in the editor. Many existing custom games? Not working. Swapping between online and offline modes can severely screw up your campaign progress.

These issues run the gamut of being baffling, frustrating, and downright bad decision-making. Cross-compatibility between old and new versions was literally a selling point of the remake, and that doesn’t appear to be the case in any capacity beyond the fact that owners of the original version have been forcibly upgraded to compatibility with the new. So if you want to take part in competitive play, well… this is maybe a net benefit for you? But it means that even people not buying the upgrade are still suffering from issues like a total lack of custom campaigns.

So what the heck happened? Well… we’re never going to know, exactly, but I can guess on at least a couple of points.

The improved cutscenes seem to have gotten scrapped around the same time that the developers were talking about bringing the game closer in line with current lore. I’m not sure, exactly, but I would imagine that was meant more about addressing niggling little lore issues between the much fuzzier geography of WCIII compared to World of Warcraft, like correcting dialogue if it called Quel’thalas north of Lordaeron when it’s really more northeast.

Still, fans weren’t happy about the suggestion, and to be real, it’s a suggestion I don’t like either. Acting like the story of the game needed to be updated when the later game was incompatible with it could just address little issues, but it could also lead to rewrites that tried to create a world where nonsense characterization for Sylvanas would make sense after the fact. So any lore changes were scuttled, and I have a feeling that any real effort to change the cutscene presentation was killed at the same time.

Custom campaigns? Well, it looks like the backend and launcher was pretty heavily redesigned as part of this process, and the end goal was facilitating the competitive side of things. (Every single beta was focused on that, after all.) If that proved more difficult to do, well, something had to give way… and if you think of the custom maps and games as primarily a way to create specialized competitive maps instead of, say, multiplayer narrative experiences? Well, put that off for a patch, if ever. That’s not why people wanted these games, right?

It might also have something to do with the redesigned campaign interface, to be fair. It’s a mess either way.

What keeps the whole thing from being truly dire is, well… it’s Warcraft III. As mentioned above, this is already a good game. All that the designers had to do was not screw with it, and despite everything you might expect from the fact that it’s Blizzard, the game remains un-screwed-with. Yes, that means promised enhancements aren’t in and there are bizarre launcher problems that shouldn’t be there, but once you get into an actual map and start playing, there’s a sort of relieved sigh to be had.

Of course, this does bring with it some minor issues since, you know, StarCraft II is not exactly a new game and it already had fixes like removing the group selection limits. But that also gets into questions of what the game is supposed to be, and it seems clear to me that wild changes to that were never in the cards. The game remains focused on small skirmishes as you build up your forces and roaming about to level your heroes between bursts of combat. As it has been.

Oh well, oh well, oh well

There’s at least some faint reason to hope that some of the things missing are missing only for now, that this launch state is the result of getting the game out the door and patching back missing features later. But we know, for example, that the game isn’t supposedly going to be adding new skins for purchase via microtransactions, and while it’s not a bad buy if you don’t own the game at $30… as an enhancement to a game, it’s pretty weak. Even without buying into the upgrade proper, you can’t just play the old game without some convoluted workarounds, and that’s true even if you’re loading it up and patching via your original game CDs.

The total lack of communication from Blizzard a couple days out from launch isn’t particularly heartening, either; rather than giving the sense of this being a game that’s getting supported, the team seems as if it expected it would ship and then there’d be no need for much additional work. Which means that the promise of this remake, the one bright spot in BlizzCon 2018, has been squandered entirely.

Same game, new graphics, features removed, almost none of the promised additions. Blizzard Entertainment, everyone.

Massively Overpowered skips scored reviews; they’re outdated in a genre whose games evolve daily. Instead, our veteran reporters immerse themselves in MMOs to present their experiences as hands-on articles, impressions pieces, and previews of games yet to come. First impressions matter, but MMOs change, so why shouldn’t our opinions?
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Sarah Cushaway

At least I know not to bother. Glad I waited for reviews. After the whole Hong Kong thing, I’m not keen on giving money to Blizzard anyway. Shadowlands is just going to be a hot mess, WC3 reforged is a mess, everything this company touches lately is just a mess.

That’s ok though. I think I’m fairly well over MMOs until we get some truly next gen stuff. Playing The Isle and waiting for the recode on that, which will surely keep me entertained for a good, long while.

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Friend

Well, after the game’s out I can safely say that I think they just want to recoup the DOTA loss and said “warcraft 3 is ours again!!! Including your custom maps!!!” while giving a middle finger to valve, DOTA, and everyone who made money off it

I used to love WOW, but after the hong kong fiasco and spent a month of my sub doing exactly nothing (while there are things to do) I probably have to accept the fact that my time with WOW has truly come to a close, one reason I didn’t preorder Shadowlands while I always preorder an xpac, the whole warcraft things are just not very appaling right now

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Jonathan Straka

More disingenuous outrage fueled by reactionary YouTube. Apparently no one knew or understood what this was (a HD reskin and NOTHING more) and that any wholescale changes were scrapped due to……fan backlash. Game releases, same people are screaming “where are my changes??” You can’t win in this online environment, where there is a whole cottage industry fueling their their 2-minute hate on YouTube daily. You’ll start to notice every commenter using the same terms, the same language. Their forum threads will look suspiciously like the click-bait titles of Youtube vidoes. Guaran-damn-tee 90% of them and the Metacritic lynch mob don’t own it, haven’t played it. I do. Have played the prologue (which, coincidentally, restores 3 missions that haven’t been available since a promotion with the game’s orignal launch. Runs flawlessly, looks great. There are literally people saying they are refunding the game because the shade of green is too bright. I give up. There is no pleasing anyone anymore. Hating Blizzard is their entertainment, not playing games.

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Schmidt.Capela

What was scrapped due to fan backlash was retconning the Warcraft 3 story to better fit WoW (which, BTW, is a terrible idea the devs should be ashamed they even suggested in the first place).

Everything else that was promised was expected to ship. The store page still mentions 4 hours of reshot cutscenes with updated voice-overs, for example, and those were cut out of the game.

Not to mention the fiasco of the map maker TOS. If you have an idea for a completely original game, test it as a WC3 Reforged map, decide to remake it as an independent game, and recreate it in a different engine with absolutely no Blizzard code or assets, well, Blizzard can sue you because your idea now belongs to them. I wouldn’t touch that map maker with a 10 foot pole, and without custom maps I don’t find WC3 to have any staying power at all.

Also, it wasn’t supposed to make the existing old versions any worse — versions which many fans had paid for back in the day. But it did. Blizzard deserves the (currently) 0.6 user score they have on Metacritic for the mess they made out of Warcraft 3 Reforged.

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Ozzie

Yeah I’m not buying this reasoning. The overwhelming criticism from the online environment is totally justified. Activision-Blizzard didn’t just let down their fans, but themselves as well by falling short of what they intended in the first place. Everyone wanted so much more from it. The overwhelming criticism is actually uplifting to see because the majority of people aren’t willing to accept shoddy business decisions and half-baked development attempts. Especially with one of the most beloved games of all time, for me ;)

Maybe you’d be right if they called the game: “Warcraft III: Reforged…Graphics, kinda”

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Dug From The Earth

I guess I didnt read up on the promised features when I got the game.

What I THOUGHT the game was supposed to be:
— Warcraft 3 (and expansion) with improved graphics/models
— Able to run on my modern PC without issue

What I got:
— Warcraft 3 (and expansion) with improved graphics/models
— Able to run on my modern PC without issue

I honestly didnt want more than that, so Im happy.

Its the same thing I wanted with the Starcraft Remaster.
Its the same thing I want from a Diablo 2 remaster (if we get one).

I guess Blizzard was promising more than that? At least thats how people are reacting. But then again, I didnt follow the news, or hype. I just heard it had updated graphics, and that was enough for me. Almost all the way through the campaign. No bugs. No crashes. Played several custom multiplayer maps (mostly TD games) without issue too.

Now… what DOES suck, is the new legal terms for custom maps. I think its BS that blizz is suddenly claiming ownership on peoples creativity (obviously so they can profit from the next League of Legends, Dota, or similar concept)

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cursedseishi

Honestly…? I think the new terms are definitely one thing… But another is the fact that with the release of Reforged, it completely bricked the functionality of the original game as well. The people who, for one reason or another, weren’t interested or felt they didn’t need Reforged’s updates all of a sudden are hit with the same issues as the updated game.

My modern PC has been able to run OG Warcraft 3 no problem. When it came to Blizzards RTS games, I’ve always been a UMS player, so the ranked stuff and all that? I could care less… But wrecking chat functionality, breaking custom maps and campaigns and all of that…?

I’d be unhappy if Reforged couldn’t do that when I was expecting it all to be fine. But if I booted up OG Warcraft 3 and was met with all of that? Yeah… And what’s worse is the Starcraft update for its graphics–far as I can recall–didn’t have any of those issues.

I can’t speak for everyone though. And as mentioned below, part of the big deal with it was redoing all of the cutscenes in-game, and the page for the Reforged features still lists those as all being re-worked to the quality of the 2018 Culling teaser. That’s… sketchy… like ‘ F76 advertising canvas bags’ kinds of sketchy. I wasn’t intending much on getting the game until after its release so that wasn’t selling me, but I could see some people buying into the game with that as partly the cause.

And at the very least, it is misleading to have the 2018 trailer up as representation of the game when it no longer isn’t. It’s just poor form.

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Rodrigo Dias Costa

That’s actually the worst indeed. 3-4 years ago I’ve paid for the old WC3, and now I don’t have it anymore because they swapped it for the Reforged, with all models digitally locked (but downloaded into my machine still, since the old game wasn’t even 2GB large and currently is taking 20GB+)

PurpleCopper
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PurpleCopper

I’m still miffed that Blizzard didn’t do a remastered version of Starcraft’s tutorial mission.

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rafael12104

Holy shit, Batman. Just when you think you have seen it all…

So, you guys have just about covered everything. I won’t rehash the debacle the game has become. But I do have some insight in product development having worked on development teams for over 12 years.

You see, when a product like this is getting ready to launch, T minus 60 days or so, there are frequent Product Reviews with top management. And everything, and I mean everything is brought up. You and your team can lay on the tracks to stop the train in these moments. You can say, “nope! we think the cinematics aren’t ready.” You can point out that changes the original game are going to cause a serious backlash, or your team can review the system test results and proclaim the game isn’t ready.

And the thing is, I’m very sure this actually happened in this case. Nothing happening now is news to the product team. Nothing! The ground pounders doing the work knew about it all and reported it, I’m quite sure of it!

BUT, they were all overruled. That’s what happens. Executives make the final call and they often overrule any concerns for “business reasons”. Yup, that’s the way it is often described too “business reasons.” They needed to make this ship date and would rather ship it and fix it later. Or just ship it and deflect.

And so, the villain in stories like this is Executive Management. The fucking blind leadership that has the memory retention of a sieve.

So, this kind of shit has to roll all the way up to JAB and his executive team. Because they are the ones who should have been insisting on the best possible product. That’s group who lived the PR debacle last year and know how important it is for Blizz to take the right steps this year to gain back some credibility.

But, no. They allowed an old franchise to get screwed instead. The truth is that JAB and his team have to go. If Blizz is going to prosper it is not with this leadership.

Am I being a little over dramatic and extreme? No. Look at what has happened since JAB and his team took over. This is only the latest debacle in a growing string of debacles. What’s next? The D2 Demaster…

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Ozzie

Sorry for the late comment and knitpicking – somewhere in there is the team leads and middle management, who are almost certainly going to get the blame from the execs for this. It’s very possible the team leads flubbed and had to bring a bad adjustment proposal to the execs and was shot down and told to release. Or maybe the project was set up for failure from the start, with a small team unable to get the correct old-school skills to work with WC3.

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rafael12104

It’s fine. And you are not wrong. There can be many reasons why a program doesn’t make its milestones and yes, it can be any of the things that you mention.

But they key is the go-no-go for launch. And that is where those Product Reviews get really interesting and very heated on occasion. All of the issues from product problems to mismanagement come out in the wash during these meetings. Strong executive teams will either force fixes to the problems, halt the launch, or, like in this case, put blinders and make the ship date. Given recent history, Blizz executives needed to step in and “stop-ship” WC3 Remaster. There are consequences in doing that too, btw. But it needed to happen and that is the failure I’m highlighting.

In a mature corporate environment no product ships without the executive management team’s explicit understanding of the risks due to the issues at launch.

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Sorenthaz

I feel like part of the overinflated outrage is just that – overinflated, and is basically continuing from the Hong Kong mess. Basically it’s like there’s nothing better to get upset about right now while Fallout 76 keeps quiet, so the outrage Youtubers/etc might as well milk this for all its worth.

Now, there are definitely issues, and I was definitely irritated on early Wednesday when I saw that it looked like a giant mess. Some of that was already fixed, but other parts definitely need to be addressed still. The new crap they threw on custom maps is mostly to protect their butt and also try to keep another possible breakthrough from slipping through their fingers – it’s unrealistic that they’ll be able to stop stuff like the anime-based maps unless they dramatically screw the system over.

It looks like they probably scaled back the budget or suddenly had a loss of direction or something. Overall it definitely feels scummy and they blatantly did false advertising. Who knows if they’ll actually bother having anyone answer or respond to this mess with a statement.

At the end of the day though the game is still playable and it looks better now. I just hope that despite the mess this’ll still lead to a surge of folks playing the custom maps and making new ones.

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Arktouros

Basically they’ve turned their fan’s blind devotion into blind hatred over a series of moves ever since Diablo Immortal. They’re now the enemy and we only do one thing to enemies: attack.

My overall estimate is still over the course of the next 5 years or so they’ll reach that Electronics Arts stage where people have moved on from overtly hating them. It won’t matter if they do good or do bad they’re just another soulless company churning out product and they’ll rake in billions without having to care too much about public perception. Pretty sweet deal all around if you ask me, Electronic Arts made a billion in microtransactions last quarter despite everyone pretty much universally despising them.

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Anton Mochalin

I don’t see why EA should be “despised”, they are just a big company making a lot of games, some are good like Jedi: Fallen Order, some mediocre, some are failures like Anthem but people playing Fallen Order or Apex Legends don’t think much about EA – they just heard from someone “Apex Legends is a good game” and then tried it and kept playing, they have some fun and then after some time get bored and move on to another game, do they care much about that next game being made by EA or not? Is it even important?

All those overblown expectations towards Blizzard always seemed somewhat strange to me maybe because I’ve never liked their art style. (But I’ve never been a fan of any gaming company – only of some games). So all that “enemy” attitude really looks childish and stupid. We all know very well that gaming companies make money selling us games. They are just a way to make money for employees and shareholders. Why should we perceive them as messiahs or enemies when they are just like Coca-Cola or Procter&Gamble, I don’t know. Some products are more successful, some are less successful. Can you still have some fun playing Warcraft 3’s main campaign with better graphics, especially if you haven’t played Warcraft 3 before (and we’ve got a whole new generation which wasn’t born at the moment the original WC3 was released)? Probably yes, maybe that’ll be even more fun than with 80% of RTS games on the market. So yeah Blizzard is quite like EA and it’s strange anyone is surprised. Yes Blizzard had its “better” period in someone’s eyes and now they’re having a “worse” period. Okay why not but why perceive them as enemies? If you’ve read negative reviews about their game you can just not buy it. If I don’t buy some random product because I chose another product made by another company instead – should I consider that first company an “enemy”?

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Schmidt.Capela

I don’t see why EA should be “despised”,

Are you aware of just how many studios EA acquired to then kill, taking with them beloved franchises? EA started as a nice company, but by the mid 90s had morphed into an absolutely ruthless publisher that would resort to every legal trick, no matter how dirty and unethical, to hinder or destroy the competition.

do they care much about that next game being made by EA or not? Is it even important?

Depends on the person. I very much vote with my wallet when it comes to corporate behavior. So a company that mistreats customers or even the competition is one I’m far less willing to purchase anything from; meanwhile if I like the personal behavior of the devs, and the way the company works, I become far more willing to try their games.

This is part of the reason most of my games are by small or indie studios. Besides indies being nowadays where the vast majority of gaming innovation happens, they also deal in goodwill as a way to differentiate themselves from the big publishers. It’s also the reason I tend to stop purchasing games from those studios if they are ever bought by a big publisher; instead, I pay attention to where the devs themselves end up, and if they leave the sold out studio to found a new one I get to purchasing games from that new studio instead.

We all know very well that gaming companies make money selling us games. They are just a way to make money for employees and shareholders.

As long as consumers purchase from those companies without caring for their behavior, yes. But in the current day and age there is some pushback, thankfully. Though we need even more pushback, to the point even a great product from an unethical company becomes a commercial failure and said company is forced to either rethink their ways or go broke.

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Anton Mochalin

Are you aware of just how many studios EA acquired to then kill, taking with them beloved franchises?

“Beloved franchises” OMG. Have the games released in those franchises before being bought by EA become unplayable? How can one “love” a “franchise”? Are you aware of the fact that the word “franchise” is a marketing term meaning “giving a product some familiar name to boost sales”? My whole point is how can one “love” constructs created by marketers with the very clear and evident goal of having better sales?

Those studios decided to be bought by EA and pass the control to EA, EA didn’t hold the gun to their head. As I said there are more successful projects in EA’s studios and there are less successful ones. Is there any lack of examples of franchises dying by themselves without any involvement of big publishers?

But in the current day and age there is some pushback, thankfully.

There’s always the pushback of people simply going for better products after reading reviews, forums, listening to friends’ recommendations etc. There’s nothing special about EA or Blizzard. EA has Anthem and it has Apex Legends, one failure and one very successful game. Bioware made Anthem and people disliked it so I guess it didn’t have very good sales. Respawn made Apex Legends and people liked and it sold a lot of cosmetics lootboxes. Then it made Jedi: Fallen Order and people liked it too and it had good sales. People tend to buy good games which other people recommend.

And there’s no shortage of crappy games made by indie developers. Some indie games are so bad it’s dangerous for one’s health to even think of them.

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Ashfyn Ninegold

Mike Morhaime took his finger out of the dike and the flood commenced.

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Josh

So it seems I should have scrolled down just a hair farther.

Apparently not only are they still using that cinematic for advertisement but “4+ Hours of Reforged Cinemtics” are still being advertised

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Josh

I posted this in the earlier article but it bears repeating.

That Culling of Stratholme cinematic from Blizzcon 2018? The one showed to us specifically to showcase the “Reforged Cinematics”? The one nowhere to be found in game?

It’s still being used to advertise the game on Warcraft 3 Reforged’s website

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hurbster
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hurbster

I read some of that ‘Insidious Ordos, Savage Harkonnen and Noble Atreides’…